Paul R. Schilf, Ph.D.
Song and dance are two primary ways that we as humans express ourselves. Instrumental music and song are long-standing, strong elements of our liturgical tradition. We sing hymns as unifying proclamation of doctrine and confession of the Lutheran church. Lutheran hymnody and instrumental music in today’s Divine Service come directly from the Bible, specifically the psalms. Music unites our hearts and minds to the One, Holy, and Triune God. Shall we therefore use styles of music, genres, or actions that decay the unity of the Church?
Besides biblical instances of vocal and instrumental music, many references to dance are found in Scripture. Many multi-denominational churches cite these as references as they incorporate dance into the Divine Service. They use cultural illustrations to show that dance was a part of Israel’s culture and declare dance therefore should be a part of our culture. It is! As Lutheran Christians we often use dance as the children of Israel did. Specific references to dance in Scripture include:
Miriam leading dancing – Exodus 15:20-21
Jephthah’s daughter – Judges 11:34
Ladies dancing in the vineyard – Judges 21:21-23
Celebrating victory – 1 Samuel 18:6-7
David danced – 2 Samuel 6:14-23 and 1 Chronicles 15 & 16
When Israel is restored – Jeremiah 31:4-13
Praise God with dancing – Psalm 150:4 and 149:3
Children playing games – Matthew 11:17
The return of the prodigal son – Luke 15:25
There is no denying that dance was and is an integral part of culture in Old and New Testament times. In Hebrew tradition, dance functioned as a medium of prayer and praise, as an expression of joy and humility, and as link between humanity and God (Taylor, 1976). Dancing is so common in Scripture that in passages alluding to rejoicing without specific mention of dancing, it can be assumed that dance is implied (Gagne 1984). It is obvious that people did dance and people do dance today. But the question remains: Should dance be used in our corporate worship?
Worship is not our action, but it is Divine Service, God’s action on our behalf. At Christ Lutheran Church, “We confess that worship (Gottesdienst) is our triune God's service to us, and our faithful responses always direct us back to God from whom all blessings flow. We deny that worship is primarily a human activity, which is constituted by contrived efforts at emotion-centered adoration and praise (Matt. 20:28; Luke 22:24-27; Acts 1:1-2).” Understanding true worship (Divine Service) is the first step to answer the question, “Should we use dance in church?”
The second point comes from an understanding of exactly when dance was used in Scripture. To say that dance was a part of the congregational worship life of the Old or New Testament church is false! In looking at Scripture one cannot find a single instance of using dance in the temple or tabernacle. Dancing was performed outside the building and seldom as a combined effort. Furthermore, examples of dance found in Scripture are extraneous to the Lutheran understanding of corporate Divine Service.